Guard against real traps in vir­tual world

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The huge price so­ci­ety has paid for a fab­ri­cated story that went vi­ral dur­ing the just-con­cluded Spring Fes­ti­val, which sparked heated de­bates on­line and off­line, high­lights the need to re­flect on how we should use cy­berspace. In the story that was first posted on a lo­cal on­line fo­rum, a 28-year-old woman, who claimed to be from a well-off fam­ily in Shang­hai, split up with her boyfriend af­ter be­ing served din­ner on the eve of Spring Fes­ti­val at his fam­ily home in a small vil­lage in Cen­tral China’s Jiangxi prov­ince be­cause she ab­horred their poverty. The woman also posted a pho­to­graph of her boyfriend’s home which showed the hum­ble dwelling, chop­sticks of un­even length ly­ing on an old, moldy wooden ta­ble, and meat and fish prepa­ra­tions in old steel plates. Such dishes were served the same way by poor fam­i­lies to “honored” guests in the years gone by.

Given that the woman chose to split up with her boyfriend on a spe­cial oc­ca­sion and venue — dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val at her boyfriend’s home — seems to con­firm an old Chi­nese say­ing that mar­riages should be based on two fam­i­lies’ so­cial and eco­nomic sta­tus. The story in­stantly tick­led pub­lic nerves and caused many to cir­cu­late it via so­cial me­dia with­out ques­tion­ing its au­then­tic­ity.

But the fierce war of words sub­sided af­ter a re­port by the Jiangxi pro­vin­cial cy­berspace watch­dog said the story was fake— a non-Shang­hai mother who had never been to Jiangxi had posted the story in anger af­ter quar­relling with her hus­band over where they should spend the Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day.

The huge price the so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing the me­dia, has paid for cir­cu­lat­ing and de­bat­ing over the con­cocted story has made it nec­es­sary for all cit­i­zens to self-re­flect on their be­hav­ior in the era of the In­ter­net. Its ad­verse ef­fects on pub­lic psy­chol­ogy have raised a ques­tion on the re­li­a­bil­ity of cir­cu­lated in­for­ma­tion in cy­berspace.

Per­haps the story was re­posted with such alacrity and speed by ne­ti­zens and then picked up by print me­dia out­lets be­cause it in­volved a sen­si­tive topic: the so­cial and mon­e­tary gaps be­tween ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas. De­spite China’s tan­gi­ble eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment, the still wide rich-poor di­vide, es­pe­cially the ur­ban-ru­ral gap, added spice to the story.

But ne­ti­zens should not use the ex­cuse of “spicy story” to ab­solve them­selves of the wrong­do­ing of re­post­ing it with­out check­ing the facts. Even if non-pro­fes­sional so­cial me­dia users can be for­given for join­ing the de­bate with­out de­ter­min­ing the story’s au­then­tic­ity, the lack of ba­sic vig­i­lance by pro­fes­sional me­dia out­lets in re­port­ing and com­ment­ing on the story calls for self-re­flec­tion. The pro­fes­sional me­dia should take the case as a pro­found les­son on how to choose sto­ries from a sea of in­for­ma­tion in the era of the In­ter­net. This poses a chal­lenge to the tra­di­tional me­dia, but at the same time it pro­vides the pro­fes­sional me­dia the op­por­tu­nity to raise their re­li­a­bil­ity and com­pet­i­tive­ness.

For In­ter­net users, the re­post­ing of unau­then­ti­cated and “ir­re­spon­si­ble” sto­ries may not be il­le­gal— and no ne­ti­zen has been held ac­count­able— but such acts do con­sti­tute an “abuse” of the In­ter­net and cause a lot of dam­age to the cred­i­bil­ity of cy­berspace. The “story of the Shang­hai woman” case once again shows that in­di­vid­ual ne­ti­zens should have ba­sic in­tegrity, if not le­gal con­scious­ness, which will help them to post or re­post only au­then­ti­cated in­for­ma­tion.

China has the world’s high­est num­ber of In­ter­net users and their num­ber is grow­ing. The In­ter­net has in­deed made com­mu­ni­ca­tion easy, but it has also led to mis­un­der­stand­ings and mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions. As such, the In­ter­net should not be con­sid­ered a realm free of self-re­straints. While freely roam­ing in the vir­tual world, ne­ti­zens should guard against the abuse of the In­ter­net, in or­der to clean cy­berspace of the false sto­ries and in­for­ma­tion.

The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily.

MA XUEJING / CHINA DAILY

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